High court: Eminent domain vote a go but later review possible

The Mississippi Supreme Court Thursday dashed Leland Speed’s bid to keep a constitutional amendment limiting eminent domain off Mississippi’s November ballot.

But in issuing the 7-2 ruling, the justices said they would be willing to reconsider Speed’s arguments if the amendment passes. The court essentially ruled that it has no jurisdiction over the matter, since no change to state law has yet been made.

Speed argued that the voter initiative process by which the amendment reached the ballot violates the Bill of Rights clause in the state’s constitution.

Circuit Judge Winston Kidd ruled against Speed in early August. The need for a resolution in time to meet absentee ballot preparation deadlines led the nine-member Supreme Court to expedite its review.

Justices said the speed in which they had to act made them uneasy.

“We find that the issue presented in this appeal, i.e., the constitutionality of proposed Initiative 31, is not ripe for adjudication by this Court, such that any opinion thereon would be improperly advisory,” the Thursday ruling stated.

“Speed filed his complaint only two months ago, and the case already has arrived on our docket. This case has been rushed through the trial court and efficiently punted to this Court for ‘expedited review.’ We find no good reason for the frenetic, fastpaced atmosphere surrounding this case, and we think there is “time enough to pass upon such important questions when they are reached in due course, with proper parties, in a proper proceeding.”

In a dissent, Justice Leslie King said the expedited nature of the case should have been sufficient cause for the Court to refuse to let the eminent domain question proceed to the November ballot.

Speed filed the challenge on his own behalf and not in his capacity as interim head of the Mississippi Development Authority, the state’s economic development entity.

The ballot initiative seeks to limit the use of eminent domain by public agencies on behalf of private enterprise. If passed, the amendment would forbid the state from allowing private use of publicly condemnd land for a period of 10 years after acquired through eminent domain.

Speed and his supporters, including Gov. Haley Barbour, argue that such restrictions would seriously hamper the state’s efforts to entice “mega” employers into the state.

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